The Prince of Wales has allegedly recently reached a settlement with the publisher News Group Newspapers over claims of hacking, the High Court has been told. Rebecca Barry reports
The royal family made a "secret" deal with publishers of the Sun newspaper in order to avoid a repeat of the 1989 Charles and Diana phone leak scandal, Prince Harry has claimed.
For this reason, the Duke of Sussex alleged, his brother Prince William recently settled a claim over phone hacking against publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN).
Prince Harry made the series of allegations in court documents ahead of the latest hearing in his legal battles against UK press organisations.
Harry is suing NGN, publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World, over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles.
In allegations covering events from 1994 to 2016, he accuses NGN of illegally intercepting phone calls, "blagging" private information - like phone bills and medical records - and using private investigators to commit unlawful acts.
NGN is asking Mr Justice Fancourt to throw out both claims, arguing they have been brought too late.
Responding to the publisher’s strike out application, Harry’s lawyers claimed that until now, the Royal Family held off bringing phone hacking claims against NGN as part of a "secret agreement" with the publisher.
Allegedly, the royals vowed they wouldn't take legal action if phone hacking incidents were eventually “admitted or settled with an apology” from NGN.
Harry said the Royal Family made the deal in order to avoid its members recounting "specific details of private and highly sensitive voicemails" in court.
Prince Harry said: "The institution was incredibly nervous about this and wanted to avoid at all costs the sort of reputational damage that it had suffered in 1993 when The Sun and another tabloid had unlawfully obtained and published details of an intimate telephone conversation that took place between my father and stepmother in 1989, while he was still married to my mother."
In 1989, an eavesdropper recorded a phone conversation in which Prince Charles spoke intimately to Camilla Parker Bowles. When it was passed onto the tabloids, it became known as the 'Camillagate' tape.
Harry also claimed his brother, Prince William, recently settled his own claim against NGN behind the scenes, having had to hold off bringing a claim for years.
Kensington Palace declined to comment on behalf of the Prince of Wales and NGN has denied Harry’s claim that there was a agreement.
Anthony Hudson KC, for NGN, said the duke’s allegation that there was a secret agreement is “flatly inconsistent” with other parts of his case.
He said in written submissions: “The allegation that the Duke of Sussex was told of such an agreement in around 2012 flies in the face of a contention that, by the same date, he lacked knowledge of facts sufficient to identify a worthwhile claim or to justify embarking on the preliminaries to a claim.”
Mr Hudson said Harry has a “belated reliance on the asserted, unpleaded secret agreement between the institution and NGN”.
He continued: “This delay is matched by the extreme vagueness with which the circumstances of the secret agreement are described in the Duke of Sussex’s evidence.”
The barrister said that Harry did not say in his evidence who made the agreement, who it applied to, when it was made, or a date when it was meant to expire.
Harry is not appearing at Tuesday's hearing, which is taking place at the High Court in London. As well as Harry's case, NGN is also asking the judge to throw out a similar claim brought against it by actor Hugh Grant.
The hearing is expected to last three days and the judge will determine whether their claims will progress to a trial, which is due to be heard in January next year.
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In the court documents, Harry also claimed that The Sun and News of the World newspapers illegally obtained and printed "highly sensitive information" about his “late mother’s state of mind, his welfare (aged just 10) and their relationship behind the scenes".
The claim against NGN is one of a number of legal actions currently being brought by the duke, who appeared in person at the High Court last month for a preliminary hearing against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of The Mail and Mail On Sunday.
He is also expected to give evidence at a trial over allegations of unlawful information against tabloid publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), due to begin next month, with Harry due to appear in court in June.
The publisher of titles including The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People, MGN has previously settled a number of claims against it in relation to unlawful information gathering, as has NGN.
The duke's two legal actions against ANL include a claim over The Mail On Sunday’s coverage of his judicial review against the Home Office about his security arrangements for his family when they are visiting the UK.
The other is over alleged unlawful information gathering at ANL titles, which is being brought alongside other high-profile figures including Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Sir Elton John.
Hearings took place last month in both of his legal actions against ANL and rulings are awaited in each.
Harry has been outspoken in his criticism of the British press, most recently in his memoir Spare and in a number of television interviews.